Curious about what to see and what to do in Peru? These are 20 unforgettable experiences and beautiful places in Peru, from Machu Picchu to the Amazon.
Peru: an introduction
Peru, located on the west coast of South America, is a country steeped in historical significance and natural diversity. This beautiful country houses the remains of ancient civilizations, including the famous Incas, and offers an unparalleled variety of landscapes, from the majestic mountains of the Andes to the lush rainforest of the Amazon.
With a history that dates back thousands of years before our era, Peru has a wealth of cultural treasures to discover. But it’s not just the history that makes this destination so special. Peru also enchants with its vibrant cities, beautiful nature, and a gastronomic scene that has taken the world by storm.
I traveled around Peru for a month and in this article, I want to take you on a journey through this remarkable country. You will read about incredible activities and experiences not to miss during your visit to Peru, the best travel time, and other practical Peru tips. So, if you are wondering what Peru has to offer and how to get the most out of your trip, keep on reading to discover the adventure that awaits you in Peru.
Fun activities & beautiful places in Peru
Are you ready? These are the best things to do and the most beautiful places in Peru.
Let’s start this list of what to do in Peru with a classic! This ancient Inca city is one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites. Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and was built in the fifteenth century. Then it was forgotten by the outside world and not rediscovered until 1911 by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham.
Machu Picchu is a place steeped in history and mystery, surrounded by lush green terraces and embraced by steep mountain peaks. Did you know that near Machu Picchu there are still many ruins hidden in the jungle? Much of it has not even been discovered yet! All in all, Machu Picchu is an indispensable stop on a tour of Peru.
Hike the Inca Trail
Despite its remote location in the jungle, Machu Picchu is accessible in many ways. But the most extraordinary way to reach this wonder of the world is to hike the Inca Trail. This is a trek that takes you directly to Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail is an iconic trek that runs through the heart of the Peruvian Andes. This route, once used by the ancient Incas, takes you through a breathtaking landscape of mountain passes, cloud forests, and historic ruins, culminating in the spectacular arrival at the lost city of Machu Picchu. It is a challenging trek that immerses you in Peru’s rich history and beautiful nature, and it is an unforgettable experience.
I planned this epic trek at the end of my tour of Peru and it was a really good idea. It was the perfect conclusion to my trip, what a highlight!
Tip! The Inca Trail is incredibly popular and there are only a limited number of permits to be given away. So book your trek well in advance. I booked my trek almost a year in advance with Alpaca Expeditions, this is a good provider with attention to their staff. It is certainly not cheap, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Spot condors in the Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is a deep gorge and lies between Arequipa and Puno. It is nearly twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon (USA) and offers breathtaking views of terraced mountains and clear mountain lakes. One of the highlights of the Colca Canyon is that you can see condors there. These majestic birds are seen soaring on the thermal winds and are huge.
Do you like adventure? Then plan a multi-day trek, hiking through the canyon and relaxing in the hot springs of La Calera. The Colca Canyon is not only a natural splendor but also home to indigenous communities that cherish their traditional lifestyle, making it a fascinating cultural experience to visit this place.
Discover the capital city of Lima
Capital Lima is not the most beautiful place in Peru, but absolutely worth a visit! Lima is a fascinating mix of historic and modern. On the one hand, the city flaunts well-preserved colonial architecture, with beautiful churches and squares that show you the rich history of the city. On the other hand, its neighborhoods bustle with contemporary life, with an emerging culinary scene that has gained international recognition.
Be sure to visit Lima’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the trendy neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco full of street art.
Read more: The best things to do in Lima
Take a boat ride on Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca, located on the border of Peru and Bolivia, is 3812 meters above sea level, making it the highest navigable lake in the world. This serene blue lake is surrounded by majestic mountain peaks and picturesque native villages.
What makes it truly unique are the floating Uros islands, made of totora reeds, where the indigenous Uros people have lived for centuries, making a living from fishing and handicrafts. Lake Titicaca offers you a chance to glimpse the rich indigenous culture and incredible natural beauty of the Andean region.
Tip: Visiting the Uros Islands is quite touristy, so it is highly recommended to take a longer tour to Amantani or Taquile Island. I visited the latter myself and it is truly a wonderful place!
Meet the colorful locals
When you visit Peru, you will frequently see people walking around in beautiful colorful clothing. You immediately notice the country’s rich cultural diversity. There are several communities in Peru, for example, the proud Quechua and Aymara communities in the mountains.
The best way to connect with locals is to visit the local markets, where handmade crafts and delicious food are offered by friendly vendors. Or participate in traditional festivals, where colorful clothing, music, and dance bring Peru’s culture to life. The warm hospitality of the people will make your trip unforgettable and give you a deeper understanding of the rich history and traditions of this beautiful country.
It’s helpful to learn a little Spanish before your trip to Peru; it makes it a lot easier to communicate with the locals.
Take a flight over the Nazca lines
Located in Peru’s vast Nazca Desert, the Nazca Lines are an intriguing and mysterious archaeological phenomenon. These giant geoglyphs consist of huge drawings of animals, geometric shapes, and human figures, excavated into the desert surface. What makes these lines so fascinating is not only their enormous size but also the mystery surrounding their origin and meaning.
They were made by the Nazca culture between 500 BC and 500 AD and are believed to have religious or astronomical purposes. What is most impressive is that these geoglyphs are only fully visible from the air. Therefore, a flight over the Nazca lines is one of the most popular and intriguing attractions in Peru.
Discover the historic city of Cusco
Cusco was for me the most enjoyable destination in Peru. I stayed here for more than a week, there is so much to see in the city and the surrounding area! The historic city of Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and is now a charming place with a cozy atmosphere.
The city’s streets are paved with history, with beautiful colonial architecture blending harmoniously with Inca ruins. Cusco is bursting with atmospheric squares and narrow alleys in which you can find remnants of Inca culture.
Cusco also serves as a gateway to the Sacred Valley and the iconic Machu Picchu, making it an essential destination for an unforgettable trip to Peru.
Visit the salt flats of Maras
The salt terraces of Maras are located near Cusco. Here you will find thousands of small salt pans built on the sides of a mountain, a remarkable natural spectacle.
These salt terraces have been in use for hundreds of years and are fed by a salt spring. The saltwater gradually evaporates, leaving behind salt crystals, which are then harvested by locals. The salt terraces create a unique landscape of white, undulating salt beds against a backdrop of green mountains, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into an ancient artisanal practice that continues today.
Taste the delicious Peruvian food
Peru is known for its gastronomy; according to many people, there is nowhere better to eat than in Peru. And I can tell you from personal experience that the food in Peru is truly delicious! Peruvian gastronomy is a delicious melting pot of flavors and traditions. It is known for its rich and varied cuisine, reflecting the influences of indigenous cultures, Spanish colonization, African slaves, and Asian immigrants.
Peru is famous for dishes such as ceviche, in which fresh fish is marinated in lime juice and spices, and lomo saltado, a flavorful stir-fry of beef and vegetables. The national dish, aji de gallina (a stew with chicken), and the crispy deep-fried delicacy called anticuchos (skewers of beef heart), are also delicacies you need to try.
Did you know that you can also eat “cuy,” or guinea pig in the Andean region? You’ll see them everywhere in a city like Cusco.
Explore the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley near Cusco is a breathtaking piece of natural beauty and historical wealth. The valley follows the Urubamba River and is surrounded by imposing mountains. These mountains are full of archaeological treasures.
The Sacred Valley was once the heart of the Inca Empire and is home to impressive remains such as Ollantaytambo, an ancient Inca city with monumental stone terraces and temples. Also fun to visit is Pisac. This place is famous for its spectacular terraced ruins and vibrant local market. The Sacred Valley is a beautiful landscape with picturesque villages, agricultural terraces, and lush green valleys, a great place to explore while traveling in Peru.
Visit the Amazon rainforest
The Amazon in Peru is a lush and pristine wilderness that every adventurous traveler would love to explore. You can visit the Peruvian Amazon from several places. In the northeast of Peru, you will find Iquitos. This is the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon and an excellent starting point for jungle adventure excursions. From Iquitos you can take boat trips down the Amazon River and its tributaries and visit local communities and nature reserves.
Another option is Puerto Maldonado, a city in southeastern Peru. This is another gateway to the Amazon with a range of accommodations and tours to the surrounding jungle areas, such as the Tambopata National Reserve.
I unfortunately had to skip the Amazon during my trip to Peru, but this is definitely at the top of my list for another visit. It seems like a wonderful experience to explore this jungle!
See the animals in the Ballestas Islands
The Ballestas Islands lie off the coast of Paracas in Peru. The islands have been compared to the Galapagos because of their rich biodiversity. These islands are known for their abundant wildlife and impressive geological formations. On a boat tour around the Ballestas Islands, you can admire colonies of sea lions, penguins, pelicans, and numerous seabirds as you sail past dramatic rock formations and natural arch caves.
In addition, at Paracas, it is also fun to explore the Reserva Nacional de Paracas nature reserve. You can do this with a tour, but I rented a bicycle and discovered the park that way. Very fun to do!
Go exploring in Arequipa
The city of Arequipa is also a delight to explore. Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city and is located in the south of the country. The city is surrounded by majestic volcanoes, including the famous Misti volcano, which provides a dramatic backdrop for the white buildings of the historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Arequipa is also known as the “White City” because of the frequent use of white volcanic stones in construction. Visit the beautiful Santa Catalina Monastery, wander through its cozy streets, see the impressive Plaza de Armas, and learn about its history and culture at Museo Santuarios Andinos. In addition, Arequipa is also a good base for an excursion to the Colca Canyon.
Go sandboarding in the dunes of Huacachina
The dunes of Huacachina, near the city of Ica, are a surreal natural wonder that seems to have come straight out of a fairy tale. In the middle is an oasis with a small lake and palm trees, and it is surrounded by high sandy mountains.
The best way to explore the dunes of Huacachina is to join a dune buggy tour and go sandboarding. This involves sliding down steep slopes on a kind of surfboard. At the same time, this enchanting place also offers opportunities for relaxation, with restaurants and accommodations overlooking the lagoon and dunes.
Visit the adobe city of Chan Chan
The ancient adobe city of Chan Chan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located near Trujillo on Peru’s northern coast. This is the world’s largest adobe city with an interesting history. An adobe city is a town or settlement in which the buildings are built primarily using adobe, a building material consisting of sun-dried mud mixed with straw or other organic material.
Chan Chan consists of vast walled complexes with intricate reliefs reflecting the Chimu culture. Here you can wander through the maze-like corridors, palaces, and ceremonial centers and catch a glimpse of life in this ancient city that was once the capital of a mighty empire. A very interesting place to visit!
Discover the Chachapoyas region
Would you like to go off the beaten path in Peru? If so, the Chachapoyas region is very interesting to explore. This mountainous region is characterized by lush green valleys, misty cloud forests, and impressive archaeological sites, including the fortress of Kuelap and the mausoleums of Revash.
Chachapoyas is also the gateway to the famous Gocta Waterfall, one of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in the world. It is a beautiful for adventurous trekking in beautiful landscapes and an interesting cultural experience.
Take a ride on the Andean Explorer
A ride on the Andean Explorer is an unforgettable train ride through some of Peru’s most spectacular landscapes. Operating on the route between Cusco and Puno, this luxury train allows you to enjoy breathtaking views of the Andes mountains and Lake Titicaca.
The train is equipped with panoramic windows and comfortable seats, allowing you to fully enjoy the beautiful scenery. During the trip you can enjoy delicious meals and live music performances on board, making the Andean Explorer a unique combination of comfort and adventure, ideal for travelers who want to relax and enjoy Peru’s breathtaking natural beauty.
Surfing and relaxing in Máncora
Máncora is a city on the northern coast of Peru. It is a sun-drenched paradise known for its beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere. This popular resort has golden sandy beaches and it is a great surfing destination. If you feel like complementing your trip in Peru with a relaxing beach vacation or an active surf trip, Máncora is the place to be.
Discover the outdoor paradise Huaraz
Huaraz is one of my favorite places in Peru. This city is a gateway to unforgettable hiking adventures in the Andes. Located in the Andes Mountains, Huaraz is a perfect destination if you want to explore the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Huayhuash. Expect lots of high mountain peaks and glistening (bright blue) glacial lakes.
It is the perfect base for hiking and offers opportunities for hikers of all levels. Recommendations include day hikes to Laguna Wilcacocha, Laguna Paron, or the amazing multi-day Santa Cruz trek.
The best travel time for Peru
The best travel time for Peru varies depending on the regions you want to visit. Peru is very large and has a varied climate. In general, Peru can be divided into two main seasons:
- The dry season (May to September):
- This is generally the best time to travel to Peru, especially if you plan to explore the coast, the mountains (including Machu Picchu), and the jungle.
- The weather is mostly sunny and dry, with mild temperatures during the day and cooler nights in the highlands.
- The trails for popular treks such as the Inca Trail are passable during this period.
- The rainy season (October to April):
- This season is ideal for visiting the Amazon rainforest because the rivers are high and the wildlife is more active.
- However, regions on the coast and in the highlands experience frequent rainstorms, especially between January and March.
- Keep in mind that during this period, some treks and mountain trails may be more difficult to traverse.
Weather can also vary within the same region, so it is always wise to check the specific weather for the places you want to visit before planning your trip.
In general, the best travel time for Peru is the dry season from May to September. I visited Peru in July and that was an excellent time for most places. I had some drizzly weather and a lot of fog only on the coast (near Lima and Paracas).
Book a trip to Peru
Would you like to visit Peru after reading this article? I can assure you that Peru is a wonderful country to explore! Book your trip now.
✈️ Plane tickets – Lima has a major international airport. Check WayAway to find the best deals and get cashback on plane tickets.
🚍 Bus tickets – To get from A to B in Peru it is best to use long-distance buses. These are very comfortable and often include a meal. I often booked first class (which was not very expensive at all) and the seats were amazing! This is especially a good idea when traveling on night buses. You can book bus tickets via Busbud.
🚘 Rental Car – You can also discover Peru with a rental car. Then you are flexible and can stop wherever you want. Check Rental Cars to find the best deals.
📱E-SIM – Do you prefer having cell service during your trip? Get an e-SIM via Airalo, so you can use mobile internet to navigate and keep in touch with family and friends.
💊 Travel insurance – Don’t forget your travel insurance, as it will give you peace of mind during your trip. Check out Insubuy to find the travel insurance that fits your needs.
Read more about Peru
Want to discover more beautiful places in Peru? Then order one of these travel guides for more travel inspiration:
I traveled around Peru for a month, and that was an unforgettable trip! You can read a lot about Peru on this website. Check out these articles as well:
- The perfect 1 month Peru itinerary
- Travel tips Peru: everything you need to know before you go
- The best hostels in Peru
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